A lifeline for teenagers and their social lives
Creative pursuits offer teens solace and enduring pleasure, but access to the arts is patchy
Film director Shannon Greally participating in the National Youth council of Irleland Showcase 2013. Photograph: Alan Betson
Members of the Co Wexford Youth Theatre.
The Kerry Youth Dance Theatre at the National Youth Council of Ireland Showcase 2013. Photograph: Alan Betson
How many times have you heard adults say they wish they had not given up playing the piano when they were younger? But when we’re teenagers we won’t be told.
Striving for independence involves casting off childhood commitments such as music lessons, drama rehearsals, ballet classes or art sessions. There are more attractive ways to spend precious time away from school books.
The very accomplished persevere, and some find ways to do it on their own terms, but many teenagers drift away from the arts, due to lack of appealing opportunities to continue.
This is a shame. Participation in the arts can be a lifeline during the turbulence of adolescence – and indeed right through adulthood. It is good for physical and mental health, a means of expression and emotional release as well as a forum for socialising. How do we keep them engaged?
Earlier this month, the National Youth Council of Ireland (NYCI) staged a youth arts showcase for TDs, to highlight that “access to the arts for young people is a right, not a privilege”. In reality, it can be best described as a “postcode lottery” – if we had post codes in Ireland.
There is no standardised provision of youth arts activity across the country, points out Anne O’Gorman, senior arts officer with the NYCI.
“If they live in an area where there doesn’t happen to be a youth theatre, or a film or music project, [children] don’t get to participate. It becomes harder as they become teenagers.”
Positive peer pressure
The chance to enjoy the arts in collaboration with peers can mean the difference between developing a lifelong passion and putting aside the musical instrument, paint brush or dancing shoes for good.
While O’Gorman acknowledges that the education system has an important role in promoting arts, she says “young people leave school at four o’clock: leisure activities and counterpoints to what is happening in school for the rest of your adolescence is really important”.
The previous night she had spent time with young people from arts groups participating in the showcase. A common refrain she heard was: “You get to be with people who like all the same things as you”.
Another aspect, which she admits hadn’t really dawned on her before, is that many teenagers are in single-sex schools so get little chance to mix with the opposite sex if they are not getting opportunities like these.
“Activities outside school have different, complementary outcomes to participating in the arts in school,” she adds. “It is voluntary – it is something you want to do and you are meeting like-minded people.”
Sean McCarron, director of the teenage jazz ensemble Errigal Groove Orchestra, formed two years ago under the auspices of the Donegal VEC’s Music Education Partnership, says its members “thrive on the camaraderie and the buzz – it’s very infectious. It brings them out of themselves.”
These young musicians are at an age when they can feel isolated practising alone, or self-conscious performing solo; they feel “safer”, he suggests, as part of a group. It’s also much more fun.